Apricots – the early ripeners

Posted April 08, 2013, at 9:34 a.m.
Last modified April 08, 2013, at 12:38 p.m.

Fresh apricots don’t stay around very long, so get them while you can. The future of most apricots is to either be canned or dried. About 13 percent of all U.S. apricots are sold fresh, 23 percent are used for canning and juicing, and 57 percent are usually dried, according to EatingWell .com. The peak season to get fresh apricots is May through early July. Apricots are one of the first fruits to arrive in the spring – before peaches, plums or berries hit the market. Because of their early ripening, they were called praecocium, Latin for “precocious,” by the Ancient Romans, EatingWell.com reports. The common name “apricot” comes from the Latin word praecox, which means “early ripening.”

Ninety five percent of the apricots grown in the U.S. come from California.

Apricots originated in the mountains of China as a cousin of peaches. They have been around in Asia and parts of the Middle East for thousands of years. Their health benefits include beta carotene – which is found in fruits and vegetables that are yellow or orange in color – one other common known source of beta carotene is the carrot. Beta carotene helps promote healthy eyes and can delay the effects of cataracts and macular degeneration, and as an antioxidant, beta carotene helps neutralize free radicals that damage cells.

Apricots are a good source of dietary fiber and are rich in potassium, while still being low in calories. A single apricot can supply a day’s worth of potassium. Three fresh apricots will supply you with just about half your vitamin A requirement for the day and a good amount of vitamin C.

One cup of raw apricots is just 74 calories, 17 grams carbs, 3 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams protein and 1 gram of fat.

Apricots can be added to breakfast cereal, cottage cheese and fruit smoothies. They complement meat dishes such as pork, lamb, duck and chicken. Apricots also are welcome addition to salads and couscous and can be served on top of pancakes or waffles or frozen into desserts such as sorbets. Chocolate-covered apricots are right up there with chocolate-covered strawberries.

Choose fresh apricots that are still firm and plump with an orange-yellow to orange color. Fully ripe apricots are soft to the touch, and should be eaten shortly after purchasing for best flavor. Storing apricots in the refrigerator will prevent them from over ripening. If you need to ripen an apricot, place it in a paper bag for a day or two.

There are many ways to enjoy apricots – here are a couple of recipes for some sweet treats (that are nutritious – don’t tell the children).

Chocolate-Dipped Apricots

Recipe from from EatingWell

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

36 dried apricots

2 tablespoons chopped pistachio

Preparation

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Place chocolate chips in a small glass bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute, stir, then continue microwaving in 20-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval. (Alternatively, melt in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water.)

3. Dip half of each apricot into the melted chocolate. Let the excess drip back into the bowl. Place the dipped fruit on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle pistachios over the chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (each dried apricot) 21 calories; 1 gram fat; 4 g carbohydrates; 0 g protein; 1 gram fiber; 0 milligrams sodium; 45 milligrams potassium.

This cereal bar along with a container of low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt would make a very nutritious breakfast – quick and easy.

Apricot Walnut Cereal Bars

Recipe from from EatingWell

Makes 16 servings

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

½ cup chopped walnuts, (about 2 ounces)

3 cups unsweetened puffed-grain cereal, such as Kashi

2 cups chopped dried apricots

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

12 ounces silken tofu, drained (about 1 1/3 cups)

1 large egg

½ cup canola oil

1 cup honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large (15¼ inches-by-10¼-inches) jellyroll-style pan with cooking spray.
  2. Spread oats and walnuts on a baking sheet with sides. Bake until fragrant and light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add puffed cereal, dried apricots, flour and salt; stir to combine.
  3. Meanwhile, puree tofu, egg, oil, honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a food processor or blender until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Make a well in the center of the oat mixture; fold in the tofu mixture until combined. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
  4. Bake until firm in the center and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into bars with a sharp knife.

Individually wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature or remove plastic, wrap in a paper towel and defrost according to your microwave’s directions.

Nutrition Information

Per serving: 300 calories, 12 grams fat, 46 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 3 grams fiber, 87 milligrams sodium, 367 milligrams potassium.

The fat in this recipe comes mostly from the walnuts and canola oil – if you prefer cut down on the amount of walnuts added.

Georgia Clark-Albert, is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes educator (CDE) at Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC) in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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